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Strands: Feb 19, 2009

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MDRNA Licenses RNAi Tech, Including Dicer-Substrates, to Roche

Financially beleaguered MDRNA last week announced that it had non-exclusively licensed a portion of its technology platform to Roche for the development of RNAi therapeutics.

Although the terms of the arrangement were not disclosed, a Roche official confirmed that the deal included access to MDRNA's Dicer-substrate technology, which was licensed from the City of Hope (see RNAi News, 11/9/2006).

"Roche licensed a portion of MDRNA’s technology as it is complementary to what we have accessed through other deals or developed through our internal research-and-development efforts," Alain Vertes, global alliance director of pharma partnering for Roche, told RNAi News in an e-mail this week. "The technology licensed includes Dicer substrates, which represents another entry point in the natural gene-silencing pathway."

He added that the arrangement is "purely a licensing deal" and does not call for the two companies to collaborate on any specific drug program. He declined to comment on the financial aspects of the agreement, but noted that Roche has not taken an equity position in MDRNA.

"To have a portion of our platform in-licensed by Roche … is a great testament to our intellectual property estate, as well as the strong science being performed by our researchers," MDRNA President and CEO Michael French said in a statement. "This agreement provides us the necessary resources to continue to pursue multiple, non-exclusive research collaborations, as well as future financing opportunities."

MDRNA has been struggling under a dwindling cash supply and a deflated stock price. In November, French said that the company expected to be able to find the funding necessary to reach its goal of launching a phase I study of an siRNA-based treatment for hypercholesterolemia in late 2009 (see RNAi News, 11/20/2008).


Arrowhead Stock Faces Nasdaq Delisting

Arrowhead Research, the parent firm of Calando Pharmaceuticals, said last week that it has received notification from the Nasdaq Stock Market that its stockholders' equity does not meet the minimum $10 million stockholders' equity requirement for continued listing on the Nasdaq Global Market.

In an open letter to shareholders this week, Arrowhead President and CEO Christopher Anzalone wrote that the company is currently preparing a "formal plan" to regain compliance with the exchange's listing requirements.

"If the plan is accepted, Nasdaq can grant the company a 105-day extension to regain compliance," he noted.


Rosetta Unveils Animal Data on miRNA-Targeting Liver Cancer Rx

Rosetta Genomics last week announced data showing that suppression of microRNA-191, which is over-expressed in human liver cancer, led to a two-fold reduction in tumor mass in an animal model of the disease.

In the model, in which an artificial tumor fragment derived from a human liver cancer cell line is transplanted into livers of mice, chemically modified antisense oligonucleotides targeting miR-191 were delivered systemically. The treatment cut expression of the miRNA to "practically undetectable" levels, Rosetta said.

Additionally, the drug reduced tumor mass two-fold within 40 days of treatment, the company added.

Rosetta was originally developing a miRNA-targeting liver cancer therapy with Isis Therapeutics (see RNAi News, 2/23/2006). That arrangement was later transferred to Isis/Alnylam Pharmaceuticals joint venture Regulus.

"While Rosetta's clear focus is on developing diagnostics, this collaborative project with Regulus is an example of how we intend to leverage the tremendous potential that microRNA holds in therapeutics and other domains," Rosetta President and CEO Amir Avniel said in a statement.


Alnylam Releases Preclinical Data on Liver Cancer Drug

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals last week presented preclinical data showing that its siRNA-based liver cancer drug ALN-VSP could inhibit tumor growth and increase survival in an animal model.

The drug comprises two siRNAs, one targeting vascular endothelial growth factor, which is associated with angiogenesis, and the other targeting kinesin spindle protein, which has been linked to cell proliferation in various cancers. It is also formulated in a lipid nanoparticle developed by Alnylam partner Tekmira Pharmaceuticals.

According to Alnylam, in an orthotopic liver tumor model, the drug inhibited tumor growth as measured by serum levels of alpha-fetoprotein, significantly improved median survival in treated animals versus controls, and boosted survival in treated animals compared with ones receiving the approved liver cancer treatment Nexavar.

Alnylam noted that the data also suggested that combining ALN-VSP with Nexavar provided an even greater increase in survival benefit.

Last month, US regulators approved Alnylam's application to begin clinical testing of ALN-VSP (see RNAi News, 1/29/2009).


Genesis Trades Royalties on Software for Stake in Genomics Firm

Genesis Research and Development said last week that it has agreed convert its rights to royalties on the sale of software products based on technology the company developed prior shifting its focus onto RNAi for a roughly 10 percent stake in bioinformatics firm Real Time Genomics.

Additional terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.

The Scan

Interfering With Invasive Mussels

The Chicago Tribune reports that researchers are studying whether RNA interference- or CRISPR-based approaches can combat invasive freshwater mussels.

Participation Analysis

A new study finds that women tend to participate less at scientific meetings but that some changes can lead to increased involvement, the Guardian reports.

Right Whales' Decline

A research study plans to use genetic analysis to gain insight into population decline among North American right whales, according to CBC.

Science Papers Tie Rare Mutations to Short Stature, Immunodeficiency; Present Single-Cell Transcriptomics Map

In Science this week: pair of mutations in one gene uncovered in brothers with short stature and immunodeficiency, and more.